Michelle Obama leads convention campaign to rekindle the '08 fire

Michelle Obama will lead a Democratic convention program Tuesday aimed at rekindling that feeling her husband's supporters had in 2008.

Amid an increasingly bitter presidential campaign and concerns about the state of the economy, a full roster of Democratic officials and activists will take the stage in Charlotte Tuesday evening to make the case for a second President Obama term. Just as in Tampa, the speeches are sure to include plenty of fiery accusations against the other side. And just as with the Republican convention, the speakers' chief job is to sell their candidate to voters.

Senior campaign officials said Tuesday afternoon the first lady will talk about Obama the man, her role and the things she has done. But don't expect her to talk about choosing between her husband and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The first lady's message also will focus on the middle class and include a compelling personal story, the campaign said.

The enthusiasm in 2012 is not exactly what it was for the president's history-making, world-rallying 2008 campaign. The president's approval rating, according to Gallup, has dropped from nearly 70 percent when he took office to 45 percent at the beginning of September -- with more Americans now disapproving than approving of his job performance.

More On This...

But Obama and the Democratic National Committee have nevertheless brought together a power-wielding lineup of speakers to kick things off in North Carolina and, if all goes well for them, convince voters to keep trust in the Obama vision.

Before the first lady closes out the night, the convention will launch with remarks by Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a rising Democratic star who could help to rebut the GOP keynote delivered by fellow New Jersey politician, Gov. Chris Christie. The program will ramp up at night with remarks by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, as well as keynoter Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio.

The question that's been hanging over this convention -- and one that Mitt Romney himself posed during his nomination acceptance speech last week -- is whether the country is better off now than it was four years ago.

After Obama surrogates struggled to answer that question Sunday, with one even answering "no," the Obama campaign has gotten on the same page with a definitive "yes" response. Speakers Tuesday could be poised to reiterate the argument.

"Well, are we better off? Are the American people better off than they were in September of 2008 when we were losing 432,000 jobs a month? That's how many we lost in September. I would say, yes," Obama campaign spokesman Jen Psaki said.

"Is there more we need to do? Absolutely. And the president has spoken about that at nearly every event he's done. He'll continue to talk about it in the months ahead. And part of this choice that he'll lay out this week is also a question of who will the American people be better off with in the White House."

Michelle Obama has revealed little about her address Tuesday night. Asked by Fox News about her speech during her walk-through Monday, Obama said: "You'll have to ask me after tomorrow."

Her high-profile appearance, though, underscores her key role in the president's re-election bid: chief defender of his character and leader in efforts to validate the direction he is taking the country.

Once the reluctant political spouse, she has embraced that mission to sell her husband anew throughout the summer while raising money for the campaign and speaking at rallies in battleground states.

These days, Mrs. Obama's speeches are peppered with references to the president's upbringing in Hawaii, where he was raised by a single mother and his grandparents. She talks about the student loans he took out to pay for college and the years it took to pay them back.

Aides say she will sprinkle her remarks Tuesday with a defense of the president's policies, including the health care law and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first legislation Obama signed into law. The act makes it easier for women to sue for equal pay if they earn less than their male counterparts. Obama has made the law a key part of his election year appeal to women, who could give him an edge over Romney in a tight race.

The first lady arrived in Charlotte on Monday and informally rehearsed at the Time Warner Cable Arena. She also taped interviews for entertainment programs that will air before her speech.

Mrs. Obama is staying in Charlotte during the three-day convention and will focus on shoring up support for her husband among key constituencies. She plans to speak to the party's African-American, Hispanic and women's caucuses and address a gay and lesbian luncheon. Along with the vice president's wife, Jill Biden, the first lady will also participate in an armed services event Thursday and put together care packages for U.S. troops serving overseas.

Mrs. Obama will join a crowd of up to 74,000 people at an outdoor football stadium in Charlotte on Thursday night when the president formally accepts the Democratic nomination. The first lady is not expected to have a speaking role that night, but she, and possibly her young daughters, will join the president on stage, leaving voters with fresh images of the photogenic family.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.